Sanctuary, “The Year the Sun Died”

I first got into Sanctuary thanks to Headbanger’s Ball when “Future Tense” was making the rounds and managed to find both “Refuge Denied” and “Into the Mirror Black” at a local record store.  From there, we got Sanctuary’s demise, Nevermore’s rise, Nevermore’s demise and Sanctuary’s rise.  There’s a lot in between, there, and that’s oversimplifying a bit, but for our purposes, it will suffice.  Here’s the thing — there have been two constants in this whole timeline: Warrel Dane and Jim Shephard.  With that in mind, I feel the need to address something before we even get into the new album from Sanctuary, and it’s the elephant in the room.

No.  This does not sound like a Nevermore album.  Well, OK, it sounds a bit like a Nevermore album.  There are two songs in particular that sound like they could have come from the “Obsidian Conspiracy” sessions, just as there are a couple that sound like they could have come from the “Praises to the War Machine” sessions, just like there are a couple that sound like they could have come from the next sessions following “Into the Mirror Black.”  Think of it this way: it’s analogous to the Mercyful Fate/King Diamond duality.  Same singer, marginally different vocal deliveries (mainly falcetto), slightly different topics, different band.
So, that said, I approached this album as someone who was looking forward to hearing what these fellas could come up with after a long time apart with growth and maturity on all sides coming together.  I expected a solid album.  I was not disappointed.

Also, of importance to me — the album recording and release was pushed back a couple of times.  The part of me that was grumpy at the delays is also the part of me that is glad they did. I’m pretty sure that the album only benefitted from the delays because, as a whole, it sounds tight, polished, well thought out and cohesive — something I wished for with “The Obsidian Conspiracy,” which, to me, did not, in a number of ways.  So, with that in mind, let’s address the album.

My first, overall impressions start with the mix. It’s excellent.  The guitars are placed very well.  The drum tone is stellar.  The bass is a velvet thunder.  Warrel’s voice is spot on and sounding the best he’s sounded in years, you might even say reinvigorated.  The mix feels roomy with great tone and balance.  A super-sized hug to everyone involved in the production for not falling into the “loudness war” garbage, rather giving us a well-mixed, tonally balanced, roomy and sonically pleasing album.  What compression is used, is used well and there’s no clipping or brickwalling which, really and eternally, makes me happy.  Thank you, again, Zeuss, and anyone else who insisted on music being listenable.

There isn’t a weak track on the album.  From the onset of “Arise and Purify,” to the final notes of “The Year the Sun Died,” you’re given well-crafted, well-played metal that is all you would want from Sanctuary.  “Arise and Purify” is just immense and the delayed guitar section is hypnotizing.  A perfect opener to the album, it also delivers your first taste of how they were going to address the “Sanctuary Scream” with an older Warrel — and it really worked.  “Let the Serpent Follow Me” continues the momentum and chugs and weaves through a fun wah-soaked riff.  The ‘breakdown riff’ reminds me a lot of Arch Enemy and definitely conjures images of churning pit.

I’ll be honest — the first time I heard “Exitium (Anthem of the Living),” I wasn’t sold.  I don’t know why, it just didn’t jive with me for some reason.  I have gone 180 degrees and love this
song, deeply.  I don’t know if it’s because it sounds like Depeche Mode gone evil, or if the guitars just feel perfect, or if I’m just a sucker for the off-kilter-meets-all-out-thrash feel.
I don’t even mind the talking… something that I usually just kind of ignore.  Again, this went from a song I wasn’t sure about to one of my favorites on the album.

“Question Existence Fading” is a track that could have been written back in ’89 and brought to today’s feel.  The bridge is fantastic and reminds me a little of “Little Boy” (Metal Church) — and that’s most certainly a good thing as Warrel’s voice is harmonized perfect on the descent, this is definitely a solid track and works well as a transition right to “Low,” which has a “Praises” feel to it, sauntering, carefully, with the acoustic guitars interplaying with the electrics.  Definitely some early 90s feel to it, and a very well thought out song — good transitions and movement.

“Frozen” grinds forth a churning riff with a vocal line bludgeoning along dropping a sumptuous chorus that turns right around and zooms into a fun solo run that make this feel like an excellent nostalgia piece for Sanctuary fans wanting a logical follow up “ITMB.”  Look no further.

“One Final Day (Sworn to Believe)” is one of the songs I remembered from the “teaser” thing they did on youTube many moons ago.  It’s an interesting song musically and lyrically and sneaks up with a deceptively catchy chorus — not quite ear worm, but just a couple of words and they stick in there.  A solid song.

“The World is Wired” is a song that feels a little NM-ish, at first, but quickly secures its own identity and churns forward with solid riffing and a smart uses of breathing — the ends of each verse are well done. The song is put together very well and everything sounds excellent.  The mix on this song shines.

The song that surprised me, the most, on this album was, without a doubt, “The Dying Age.”  That said, I love it.  The layering going on is complex without becoming impenetrable and the vocals are spot on.  The movement and feel of the song is excellent and it works, for me.  Again, the off-time guitar under the verse wasn’t something I expected, but can certainly dig it.

The instrumental, “Ad Vitam Aeternam” is pretty cool and leads into the title track, fitting well. Segueing into the “The Year the Sun Died,” we get a very short acoustic intro/verse and into some heavy riffing during the pre- and chorus.  This song has an excellent feel to it and effective use of dynamics — the seamless sinusoidal back and forth between melodic and thrashy is well done and the overall song, from structure to composition to execution is spot on.  My only complaint with the song is the fade out — specifically, the timing…I wanted it to be longer than 5 and a half minutes, selfishly.

So, here’s the bottom line for me — this is an exquisite example of a band “growing up.”  It’s not 1989 Sanctuary, it’s 2014 Sanctuary, and it really works for me.  It’s not “The Nevermore Replacement Project” or “Warrel’s New Solo Project, Part II,” it’s Sanctuary, and from the opening notes of “Arise and Purify” to the tailing fadeout of “The Year the Sun Died,” this album is solid, well-paced, well played and well executed.

Because I hate putting numbers to things, but it seems the social norm to do so, I will give this 9.5/10, for me.
The big knock, really, is that I wanted more which is sort of backwards, since one should be praised for leaving audiences wanting more, but since I’m the one who wants more and I know I’m not going to get it for a little while, it’s my point, and I’m taking one for making me wait…ok, fine…just a half-point.
I know the fellas will understand.

Here’s the problem — I’m one of the minority: the left-handed guitarist.  I’m also not rich, not famous and not the best guitarist out there.  However, I do have money occasionally, and I sometimes get to feed the beast that is G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome).  My biggest problem is the in-store selection. 

When I go in, I have pretty good ideas about what I want.  My choices, at least in my area (Dayton/Cinci Ohio), are exceedingly limited — an Ibanez Gi0 and Fender Tele.  I will say that for my last birthday, I hit all the local shops and threw down less my wife thought I would to get a Schecter Omen-6 Extreme Diamond Series rather than some of the lefties we had found at other stores.  The point being, I did NOT spend the money at Guitar Center, even though that was the second stop on the trip.  I’ve bought there before, but not this time.  Part of that was I already HAVE one of the two models available in-store and wouldn’t buy it again without serious persuasion – like someone would have to pay ME.

I guess that comes to my next point — the in-store selection being dreadful is kind of be expected: we lefties are quite the minority.  That said, would it kill you to have more than 2 models in store?!  Even back in 1992 when I was looking for (and ultimately purchased) a new guitar at a LOCAL (to Norfolk, VA) shop, I had a choice from, basically, one lefty model per manufacturer, meaning I tested a lefty Fender Strat, Les Paul Custom, BC Rich Warlock, Jackson Stealth and PRS of some expensive persuasion, among probably 5 others.  I walked out of there with the Stealth EX, but the point is that I had a choice.  I, and other lefties out there, don’t get that opportunity, in-store.  Even *one* other model would be nice, but since you don’t know which type of player you’re going to get in there, predicting that a Schecter model or Jackson or Gretsch will the one someone’s looking for, I know that makes it hard.

Just for the record, the quality on the Ibanez Gi0 is dreadfully cheap.  The bridge is the stuff of nightmares and the hardware is…suspect and cheap.  Just so you know.  I bought one when I had my other guitar torn apart replacing pickups but still needed to record.  Not a mistake I would make again.  If you’re really looking at a cheap (in price and not necessarily quality) guitar to feature, ESP has a number of inexpensive choices, as does Dean, Schecter and Epiphone.  This is something you already know, since they’re available online.  I know there’s the notion of inventory and keeping them on hand, taking up the space that one of the other righty guitars could use.  But here’s the thing — when I walked in and saw my choices, I turned around, left and took my money elsewhere.  I’m not buying a guitar unplayed and if there’s no selection in-store, then I’m going somewhere that will have one.

At any rate, this was brought on by the email sent out highlighting lefty models and got me thinking about how it’s well fine and good to have them online, but, again, I’m not buying without playing an instrument (buying a second instrument of the same make and model notwithstanding) and when I walk into a store and get the "poor guy" sympathetic apologies from the sales staff because there are only two guitars of limited appeal available in store, it just feels a little disingenuous. If I, in the future, should find myself able to walk in with two grand to spend on a lefty and my choices are a $229 Ibanez drekster and a $400 Fender/Squire Tele, I’m taking my $2K elsewhere, just like I did with my $500.

Thank you for your time.

Testament and Greg

July 11, 2014

Greg Christian has been “airing dirty laundry,” of late about how financially inequitable the situation was while he was in Testament and how that led to his decision to quit the band.  It got me thinking.

I *LIKE* Greg.  He’s a neat guy, has helped pen some of my favorite songs, and it does sound like he not only got railroaded, a bit, but screwed, overall.  That said, when I see things like "it may be time to see what my attorney thinks," I twitch, because that should have been done *first.*  You bring in the attorney to look over your ***contract***, that legally binding document that will stipulate royalties, per-show pay or salary, in this case (was this to mitigate uncertainty, going with a "guarantee" pay rather than "per-show?"), and if the contract isn’t up to snuff — *don’t sign it* and negotiate until you get one that’s to your liking.  Otherwise, legally, you’re, as it’s been coined — over a barrel.  Now, going back over unpaid royalties might be an option, but, again, if there was no breach of contract because there was no contract, it will be an uphill battle and, usually, doesn’t end in the person getting royalties, just a loss of friendship(s) and a lot of bitterness.

I guess my other problem that is raised, here, is this — he talks about getting a paltry amount per show.  He’s got a W-2.  This says, to me, a few things, including "employment at will" and "agreed upon wage."  Basically, if they had played *2* shows, that would be have fabulous, right? $19K or so per show.  Instead, having a set salary of $38K and touring the world, doing a billion shows, yeah, it’s going to break down to "not very much" per show.  That’s the problem with salary — it’s averaged across the year’s worth of dates and not, as has been mentioned, a four week stretch of *4* shows, which, yeah, makes it REALLY hard to live on $1.25/show ( exaggeration… ). 

I guess my take on this revolves around what a bizarre beast the music business is.
When one talks about things like Chuck and Eric "throwing down $3K" for first class tickets and having more money per show and this and that and the other thing, it comes down to several factors that aren’t addressed, not the least of which are what kinds of contracts Chuck and Eric negotiated, to begin with.

1) During Greg’s absence from the band, how many albums were released (2 new, "Demonic" and "The Gathering" along with "First Strike" where Greg gets "composer" credits), tours toured (boatloads) and income banked that put Eric and Chuck in the situations they’re now in? I mean, an 8- or so year gap in Testament-based income is nothing to sneeze at, and certainly factors in, especially when combined with

2) New revenue streams — with Chuck, Eric, Alex and Gene having other income to subsidize Testament’s overall income, it would certainly make it easier to spend more money than someone who doesn’t have these revenues, not to mention

3) Royalties…If Greg doesn’t have a contract in place stating, *explicitly*, what his cut of each *song,* let alone albums are, that’s a big no-no.  It all comes down to what you’ve signed as to what you get in this department — nothing is guaranteed; nothing.  If these weren’t done when Legacy became Testament and he became part of that monster, then it *really* needed to be done when he re-joined, since I’m not sure what legal weirdness happens when you quit a band and what carries over beyond hopefully pre-negotiated and contracted royalties.  If he’s saying he’s not getting royalties, I’m wagering no contract was signed stipulating this.  If there was, then, yeah, it’s time to bring in a lawyer. 

4) We don’t know what the other members got paid.  It *could* have been the same, though I really doubt this, but, again, with more in the bank, it’s a lot easier to make do with $500/show than someone relying on the $500/show to feed, house and transport him to the next show…

There’s also
5) How much does it cost to ship gear?  Yeah, I know $100K sounds like a lot for a show.  And, really, compared to local bands jumping over the moon for $100/show at a bar, it is.  Now, I know when I fly, I have to pay $50+ for each additional piece of luggage and I have to check my guitar…singular…in a flight case…$50, and praying nothing impales it.  I can’t imagine what flying a stage full of gear would cost, even at a "economy shipping rate."  I guess I could look it up, but between that, whatever is on the rider, new strings, sticks, cords, etc., per show…somehow I think it could add up quicker than one would care to think, considering also insuring all of the gear, maybe on a per-flight basis, in addition to whatever a 3-month-tour-worth-of-clothes suitcase armada looks like (they’re guys…1? ;) ) and what extra baggage costs those are (though, the band members have to pay for this, it sounds like…).  You also have to pay your

6) Your management, your promoters and your crew — sound guys, roadies, strange hangers-on that you think might be part of the entourage, but can’t quite remember, but they look "metal" — "Wanna go to Tokyo?"  Then there’s gas for the buses or whatever transports your gear from the airport to the venue.  It all has to come from somewhere, and odds are good, you’re paying for this from the revenues from the previous night’s gig.

I could be wrong, but it really sounds like it comes down to not walking in with a lawyer at the get-go to negotiate a proper, satisfactory contract.

So, I listen to a lot of different styles of music.  It’s not a contest and I’m not trying to win the “Oh, yeah, we’ll I’m more diverse than YOU are” contest, because it’s pretty much a “who cares wins” argument.  Most of the time, no one cares.  My point, however, is that I have a different perspective on music than the person sitting next to me, just as that person has a different perspective from the person sitting next to them.  What it brings to the fore is the point: subjectivity.

In this vein, I figure an example is required.  Three weekends ago, I saw Conquering Dystopia in concert.  Last weekend, I saw Hotel California play live.  They were both excellent shows, though for me, for different reasons.  The Conquering Dystopia show, pits and all, was about seeing the absolutely amazing tandem of four of the top musicians in the heavy metal genre in what can be described as an all-out shred fest.  The Hotel California show, for me, was about spending time with my wife, seeing a band that falls within the Venn diagram of music we both enjoy.  Now, for me, being with my wife was more important, but that didn’t take away from enjoyment of the music and it was a good show – high energy when it needed to be and also, when appropriate, suitably subdued and contemplative.  It was also a simpler show, which led to the following observation:

“I think Conquering Dystopia played more notes in their first song or so than this whole show.” 

Well, that was dumb of me.  Because while it felt like a “hmmm…interesting” moment, to me, it could be – and was – perceived as a bit of music snobbery, implying that because the music wasn’t as complex or up to the quite lofty standards of Conquering Dystopia, that it wasn’t good.  It’s not how I meant it, but I will readily admit that’s how it comes across.  This is where the subjectivity and, further, expectations come in.

I don’t care, really, that Hotel California didn’t put on a show rife with riffs jamming hundreds of notes per minute, per instrument, into my brain.  That is not their style and I wouldn’t expect it.  I’m not going to defend my statement any further, as it was a pretty boneheaded and insensitive thing to say.  Specifically, it made it sounds like there was judgment as to which was a better experience and, to get back to my original thought, it means different things to different people.  To me, Hotel California did exactly what I expected them to do – put on an excellent show that made a lot of people, including me, happy.  Part of my happiness came from the music, but part of it also came from my watching my wife enjoying and being touched by the music. 

Honestly, the first half of the HC set, I was kind of lost, as I’m not a huge Eagles fan, though I do enjoy the music of theirs with which I am familiar.  That said, I got to watch my wife enjoy it and was introduced to music I wasn’t familiar with and, ultimately, got to take in musicians having fun playing music they love.  That’s pretty much what it’s all about for me.

I mentioned the Venn diagram and mentioned music that my wife and I both enjoy.  It’s not as inclusive as you would think as I listen to a lot of things she does not.  Interestingly, though, when we got married, we duplicated two CDs – neither of which you would expect from someone who listens to Conquering Dystopia – Jewel’s “Pieces of You” and Sarah McLachlan’s “Solace” albums.  Here’s the point to that – I would never in a million years take my wife to a metal show…she doesn’t enjoy the music, I’m not taking her anywhere near a pit, and it just wouldn’t be a fun experience for her.  By that same token, I enjoy going to see bands I wouldn’t seek out if it weren’t for her.  I also don’t go in with the same expectation as I do with a metal show.  If I’m going to see Arch Enemy, it’s not because I’m there to feel the white space between notes wrap around me in a soundscape woven from sounds and memories I’ve associated with the music since I was 10. It’s because I want my face melted off by shredding guitars, bludgeoning double-bass drums and volume set to “bleed” in an all out set of aggression and technical sonic devastation.  When I see a band such as Hotel California, my expectations are quite reversed. 

It’s also hard to extract the metalhead for those times when I am not in a “metal” environment.  When heads were bobbing at the Hotel California show during songs like “Hotel California” or “Dirty Laundry,” I thought, “hmm…it’s not even heavy…” After about a second or two, I tacked on, “…but there IS emotional connection and subsequent outlet of this emotion.”  What people get out of music is as individual and unique as the music out there.  Far be it from me, however, to judge any one else’s appreciation or enjoyment of music and, especially, inadvertently minimize that enjoyment by the implications of the statement that I will now, attempt to rephrase in a way that isn’t boneheaded:

“These guys rock and it was a much different experience from the last show, and that’s cool.”

For the record, I recommend seeing both of these bands live, if you have a chance.  They both put on excellent – though very different – shows.  You won’t be disappointed in either case and you might just gain an appreciation for what goes into each performance, as I did.

Animals as Leaders

With Conquering Dystopia and Chon

With special guests Shores of Elysium and Novallo

May 24th, 2014 at Skully’s in Columbus, Ohio…

As sometimes happens, there are concerts that just demand you attend. This was one of those. In the interest of full disclosure, I went with the sole purpose of seeing Conquering Dystopia. The last time I saw Jeff Loomis play live was in 2006 with Nevermore on the “This Godless Endeavor” tour. So, with that in mind, I had heard of two bands and listened to one. Apologies to the other bands, including Animals as Leaders, as, again, I was purely interested in Conquering Dystopia. That said, this was an evening of discovery an enjoyment of excellent music.

The first act of the evening was Novallo. They were good, musically and vocally, and at times reminded me a lot of a more progressive Stabbing Westward. I enjoyed their set and they had a good presence. I will need to check out their music – available on, to be precise. It didn’t seem as though everyone was sold, though – I had to chuckle – I saw, in passing, a text message on someone’s phone that read “so much screaming.” To be fair, it was all on-key, which, trust me, can only be considered a good thing! Check them out on facebook, as well.

The next set of the evening was inflicted at the hands of Shores of Elysium and, believe me, only in the metal community can the adjective “inflict” be considered a positive, and it was. From the opening notes to the closing, it was a relentless infliction of choreographed mayhem and wonton obliteration of eardrum and spinal column alike – and I tend to think they wouldn’t have it any other way. To be honest, I had never heard of this local-ish (Delaware, Ohio) band and, equally honestly, that’s a shame for the local area. I wouldn’t mind seeing them again, though I might keep my aging, not-as-up-for-a-good-violent-pit-as-I-used-to-be, self along the periphery to enjoy the excellent musicianship that went along with brutal vocals. I had to laugh (as opposed to just a chuckle) when the vocals started, because I just thought, “you thought the LAST band screamed? Just wait…” The presence was good and those were some dreads on the bassist – and he had chops, to boot. The band was tight and I give them big props on winning me over not only with personality but with their music. You can find their stuff on iTunes or not to mention their facebook page.

Slight tangent – I’m too freaking old for pits, these, days, it would seem. That said, when did just being a wrecking ball and getting up a head of steam and plowing into unsuspecting patrons attempting to enjoy a show become acceptable? Maybe I’m just a stodgy curmudgeon, here, but dare I say I miss the circle pits?

A band that did not conjure pits was Chon, and that’s completely fine with me. I had heard of them, which was good, but I had no idea what their sound was like or really what to expect. I was completely disarmed with how down to earth and just, honestly good this band is. Both guitarists are technically excellent and without much by way of effects or “brutal riffery,” held the previously unruly audience in thrall with technical runs and solid musicianship backed by equally talented bandmates. I really enjoyed their state presence which, as I think I mentioned, was just disarmingly down to earth. The drums were right up front on the very intimate (read: cramped) stage, to a point where I could pick out the drum sound without amplification. All in all, this band is amazingly talented and very much well worth checking out. Just remember, they’re not your straight-up thrashing instrumental band – they remind me a lot of what would happen if Eric Johnson’s and Blues Saraceno’s music had a proggy lovechild. The cheeky nod to the Power Rangers was endearing, as well. I really, really enjoyed the set – such a pleasant surprise. You can check them out on facebook, iTunes or They are well worth looking into.

Since I mentioned the size of the stage, may I just say that this is probably the most intimate setting I’ve been in since the Little Giant Room back at Wabash. By “intimate,” I mean “reach out a touch someone” close to the musicians and the artists themselves having roughly 12 feet to work with from back wall to crazed fan. It also sports a diner in the front of the place that has excellent food that, if a little on the pricey side, delivers satisfaction. I can personally recommend the buffalo chicken philly. It works. Really. It was also cool to see just about every band member from each of the bands wander out into the diner for one reason or another. Anyway, small tangent about small stage-space aside, it’s time to get to the reason I was there.

Conquering Dystopia, for those unfamiliar is like the supergroup you’ve never heard of. While there are “supergroups” with Navarro or Slash or some of these other high-profile musicians, you’d be hard pressed to put together a better groups of “super” musicians than the collection of Jeff, Keith, Alex and Alex. Jeff Loomis’ pedigree is legendary, coming from prog-thrash-death-gasm Nevermore and having released a couple of solid solo albums. Keith Merrow has released three of his own albums and collaborated with Jeff on a number of product demo videos in addition to tons of his own. He is also a very tall individual. I just need to get that out there. Alex Webster is the bass force majeure hailing from Cannibal Corpse. If you can hang with a guy named “Corpsegrinder,” you are a worthy addition to this group. On the skins, you have Alex Rudinger from “The Faceless.” His winning personality and ability to turn your innards to jelly with his double-bass round out this group. With all this adulation, could they possibly live up to any expectations set before them?

Conquering Dystopia completely blew away my expectations and they were lofty expectations, indeed. They played the songs I wanted to hear in addition to three others. It seemed like a short-ish set, but considering they played ½ of the album, including the longer piece “Destroyer of Dreams,” that’s still a lot of music. The set consisted of “Prelude to Obliteration,” “Tethys,” “Ashes of Lesser Men,” “Inexhaustible Savagery,” “Kufra at Dusk,” and “Destroyer of Dreams.” I may have forgotten something or gotten something wrong. It happens. What also happened was an interesting phenomenon. The pit…it was the most interesting thing, other than the band, to observe. There was the same body flailing, but it would give way, midway through the songs, as they would suddenly remember they were in the presence of such awesome musicians that, perhaps, it would be well worth watching these guys jam, in their prime and with technical brilliance and sonic savagery (some might say, “inexhaustible…”). Watching each of these musicians, at the various points during the show, one just couldn’t help but be in awe.

Rudinger’s skill on the drums was masterful. Keith was just tall and making the impossible rhythms he and Jeff cooked up look effortless – something to see. Did I mention he makes it all look very easy? For the record, I have seen a lot of metal shows and I have never seen anyone tear it up on the bass with the skill and just…bombastic riffery that I witnessed with Alex Webster. This includes a lot of talented bassists, but after what I watched during “Ashes of Lesser Men,” they all take a bit of a back seat. Sorry, fellas… Then, there’s Jeff. Jeff Loomis’ stage presence is a different kind of presence. He just walks up the edge of the stage and is awesome, just by what he does with the guitar. There’s no need for an “ego ramp,” or weird poses or anything other than just playing the shredding leads he’s written with precision and an effortlessness that makes the guitarist in me cringe a little. It’s awesome to behold. I recommend it to any and everyone. You may not be a fan of metal music, but to see a musician and a master of the craft performing some of the most complicated, intricate and brutally heavy pieces of music in a way that is still amazing and beautiful….it’s still something to experience, and an experience I would recommend every time. This band is the real deal and one of the most talented groups I think you’ll find out there. It was a pleasure to see and I hope that they swing back through this way on another leg of the tour.

Animals as Leaders is an impressive three piece ensemble, to be sure. Even as insanely bright as the backdrop was, it couldn’t outshine the musicianship. I have never been a fan of the 8-string guitars, mainly from a “gear-geek” and “tone snob” standpoint, but I must say I was duly impressed with Tosin Abasi’s tone, live. I’d seen some videos on the web and as such videos tend to be, didn’t do nearly the justice to the tone that they should.  This was remedied live. Both Tosin and Javier Reyes are exemplary musicians in full control of their instruments to prove without a doubt they are masters at their craft. I’m not sure what else there is to say – each song was performed with precision, enthusiasm and command. Tosin is a reserved showman and his quiet reserve belies his skill and talent with his guitar. I really enjoyed the show and recommend checking them out, should the opportunity.

Actually, that’s the bottom line – there wasn’t a band on this show card that wasn’t an excellent band, performing well and winning over, if not the crowd, me. I enjoyed myself, immensely, and would attend another show on this tour without hesitation. All the bands showed up and gave it their all, and that’s not something that’s always a given in this over-“pop”’d, lip-syncing world of drek that passes for music, these days. Every last band showed the audience that they respected and appreciated their outlay of cash to see them on this night and performed like it. In sports terms, they all “left it all on the field.” That’s all you can ask for. Well, it doesn’t hurt that they were all very talented and produced good music. So, again, if you have the opportunity to see the Animals as Leaders/Conquering Dystopia/CHON lineup – do it!

I have worked in every aspect of the software design life-cycle.  I have gathered requirements, documented those requirements, distilled those requirements, programmed those requirements, tested those requirements and released programs and/or updates reflecting those requirements.  It’s through this experience that I have come to understand how to make users happy and, by and large, it comes down to two things — doing what you say you’re going to do and good manners.

Doing what you say you’re going to do kind of goes without saying, I would hope.  In case not, it comes down to living up to your contract with client, be it written or a hand-shake or verbal commitment with inferred contractual implications.  If your client takes “Sure, I’ll get that to you, tomorrow” as meaning just that, it’s a contract.

Good manners, on the other hand, comprises many more aspects and facts of the company-client relationship and, while living up to the above contractual points have some legally binding aspects, it’s also good manners to deliver what you say you’re going to deliver when you say you’re going to deliver.  It’s also good manners to treat your client with respect, not infer they’re idiots, listen to what they’re saying and acknowledge it.

Sort of a tangent, here.  I’ve been in some discussions, recently, where there’s a fallacy that the client is *always* right.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Before I get lambasted for such heresy, consider the following revision to that old addage:
“The customer may not always be right, but the customer should always feel as though they are being considered fairly and have their concerns validated.”  Kibitizing over UI look and feel issues tends to bring this up a lot and the last thing the customer needs to hear is, “whatever.  We’re not dong it,” especially when the real case is that the customer hasn’t been informed that this request will break the UI layout to a point where fixing it would put the development timeline much further out and if it’s something they still want to do, this will have to be taken into consideration and whatever contractual gymnastics necessitated by this will need to be ironed out.  Generally, communicating to the client, even when it’s not reinforcing “they’re right,” will be appreciated because it’s showing that you’re listening to them and also, you’re giving them an informed response that can be considered.

To bring this back to the point of this post, Facebook has been epitomizing the exact opposite of this, of late.  I have a post not terribly long ago about the updates to the interface that just get dropped on the user with no warning, no explanation of what has changed and no regard for the user, really, at all.  There is only the misguided and over-simplistic, if not pandering, attitude of “we’re making it better for the user.”

Here’s the thing…it’s arrogant and lazy the way it’s handled, presently, by Facebook’s release team.  To be fair, it’s not just FB, but they’re the most recent release team to irritate me, so they bear the brunt of my wrath.

Why would I cast such aspersions on a team of folks that I don’t know that do, honestly, work very hard and are undoubtedly under a great deal of pressure?  Because the onus for informing the user of major changes in newly released products is on the release team.  The user should be informed of what has changed, especially when it alters major, core functionality.

I speak, specifically, about the “Most Recent” posts display option in the news feed.  It was through the kindness of others that I re-found this *core feature* at all.  It was moved from being the second, immediate option on the left-hand side to buried 2/3rds of the way down in the “extra” options on the right side of the application beneath things like games notifications.  None of this was documented, anywhere, in the release of this app.  I didn’t get a pop-up on the first run following the update informing me of the major changes to the app.  I wasn’t given a run-down of the complete release notes.  I was just pushed the update and left to fend for myself.  That’s arrogant.  That’s lazy.

The arrogance comes in that, because they are the almighty Facebook, there is no reason why anyone would question anything they do, so they can do whatever they wish and people will like it — they have to if they wish to continue accessing Facebook with a native mobile app.   The laziness comes in with how simple it would be to put a pop-up screen that appears the first time you run the app after the update the in the main part of the pop-up highlights the major changes.  For example, “Moved ‘Most Recent’ to an almost impossible place to find.”  Then there would be two buttons: “Dismiss” and “Release Notes.” With these two buttons, the user would have the option to CHOOSE to either read the full release notes or to dismiss the dialog altogether.  There’s the rub — if the information is there and I’ve chosen to not read it, then it’s on me if I can’t find something and, therefore, have no right to complain.  However, if there has been no common courtesy involved and the user has not even been attempted to have the information communicated, then that’s on the release team and that boils down to bad manners.

You wouldn’t just send a deliverable to a major client without telling them what you were delivering.  That would be crazy.  Why would your potential billions of clients be treated any differently?  Not only is that bad maners, but bad business, as well.

So it came that I had to get a new phone.  By “had,” I do mean “had.”  It was like when the Blackberry Tour decided it would no longer charge – if I wanted to continue using a phone, it was going to have to be something other than the Blackberry.  In the case of the Blackberry replacement, the new phone was the HTC8X Windows Phone 8.  A scant year later, it became necessary to change phones, again, as the HTC8X had begun such endearing behaviors as restarting at random, not sending texts, not receiving calls – you know…all the things that one looks for in a smartphone, these days.  So…now I have a Samsung S4. 

So enquiring minds want to know, do they?  They want to know “what do you like better?”  “which is a better phone?” “what made you choose Windows Phone in the first place and when you switched out the phone, why did you choose Android?”  These are all valid questions, really.  I’m going to answer them in a sort of shuffled order, though.

The Windows Phone Choice

I’ll be right up front – it was a “business” decision; a completely deluded, misguided business decision.  I thought that because it came with Office 2013 built in as well as built-in Outlook support (which turns out to be a bit misleading), I would be able to work on documents and handle company email tasks with ease and aplomb.  Lies.  Damned lies.  If you’ve never tried to deal with a 14-worksheet Excel workbook on your phone, you can die happy knowing that there are pieces of your soul that will never be pierced by unspeak evil.  If you have … you know of what I speak.

The Good.

Now, I liked the phone.  It’s a decent enough phone and I do have some apps I’ll miss as they’re not available on the Android market.  There aren’t many, but there a few, trust me.  For example, the 627AM alarm app is excellent.  I recommend it, highly.  GuitarTools is another that I enjoy that I haven’t found on the ‘droid market.  That said, I also enjoyed its fairly decent camera and pretty solid battery life.  Oh, and it had Beats built in, which is both a good thing and a bad thing.  I like the EQ boosting inherent to Beats a ton better than the overpriced, unwieldy and sonically suspect headphones of the same name.

The Bad.

The sim card slot sucks harder than blowing the door on a 747 at 30,000 feet.  I had to shim the sim with a piece of business card. This actually worked for several months until the past month when it simply would barf “SIM Card Error.  Emergency Calls Only” about 4 to 5 times a day.  Exceptionally irritating and, apparently, just a dumb design decision by HTC.  This alone was enough to push me towards switching phones. I never was a big fan of the random resets, either.  I would enjoy not being able to send a text three or so times and then on the fourth attempt, the phone would just reset.  It was the nail in the coffin as I sat in the Verizon store and it did it, twice, in the span of 5 minutes.

The Bluetooth implementation also seemed a bit sketchy.  I went through no fewer than 7 headset/earpieces trying to find one that would pair and maintain connection for more than 3/4 of a phone call without cutting in and out and eventually dropping connection so that I would hear “Hello?!” coming from the phone in my pocket.  Equally frustrating was the lack of device support.  Case in point, my Logitech bluetooth keyboard that I use extensively with my Galaxy tablet, and now, my S4; it never paired properly with the 8X.  For a phone that was purchased with productivity in mind, hammering out any form of work document on the touch-keyboard on the phone rather than a keyboard is…painful.

This is phone specific, but the lack of external storage got old.  Of course, if any SD expansion slot was handled the same way as the SIM slot, this might not have been a bad thing…

The Beats implementation did tend to muddy up metal, especially with blizzardy double-bass work…it’s why I didn’t go with the headphones of the same name: Amon Amarth sounds just awful at volume.

When Switching Phones, Why Did I Choose Android?

The obvious choice when detracting against the 8X, if you want to stick with a Windows Phone is the Nokia, from what I hear.  That said, I wouldn’t go Windows Phone again without corporate sponsorship and a custom OS-level developer living in my basement.  Why?  If you haven’t figured out from the previous section, then I’ll address why I went with Android.

First and foremost, it’s a much more stable OS.  I have had the S4 for close to two weeks, now and haven’t had a hiccup stemming from OS weirdness.  As I still have the phone, by way of making my point for me, the last three times I’ve trotted out the 8X to either sync contacts (manually, of course, since there’s no REAL support in that regard…), siphon off music or use one of the apps I like that have no counterpart, the phone has rebooted itself in the middle of said operation.  Seriously. 

Next, I prefer the Google Store.  I’m sorry – “Google Play.”  Even though nothing says ‘take me seriously’ like renaming a store concept to a “play” concept, it does have a more easily navigable paradigm, easier payment system that works more of the time and has a ton – and this is either imperial OR metric – more apps from which to choose.  Support for the Windows Phone is, indeed, growing, but at this point can’t hold a candle to the number of Android apps out there and part of that is the next point.

I can develop for my phone should I choose, and I can do it for free.  As a .Net developer imagine my glee when the SDKs were made available for the Windows Phones and were available as free add-ons to Visual Studio.  Imagine my grumpiness when said SDK was updated and would no longer work on my “plain” Windows 8 system but would require not only a paid upgrade to Windows 8.1, but also a paid upgrade to Visual Studio 2012 and whichever level of “awesome overkill” was a level or so above my version.  So, when I found the Android SDK, ADK and so on and plugged it into my Keplar installation of Eclipse and it *just worked* without any massive gyrations or outlays of cash, I was a very happy man.  That said, my Java is more than a little rusty, but the point is that with minimal effort (other than learning the language), I can start designing the next “Killer App” for my Android phone. 

Another reason was Google Everything.  I know, there’s no such product, but there might as well be.  The overarching products associated with Google and the integration into the phone OS are very compelling reasons.  My calendars now all sync.  My emails now come in without third-party applications.  I can, should I choose to accept the mission, hop onto Google Hangouts.  The main thing, however, was the calendar.  Since I’ve got it integrated with my Outlook installation at home, kludged into my Lotus Notes(!) installation at work, on both my tablet and now my phone, this makes it quite homogenous and reduces frustration levels a lot…in addition to reducing the number of “Oops!” moments as a result of a non-synced appointment being missed.

Which is a Better Phone?

There is no question in my mind that the Samsung S4 is a better phone than the HTC 8X, if only because of the SIM card debacle and the random resets. 

Summary, OR, Which Do I Like Better?

To conclude this rather lengthy missive, I will summarize as best I can without being overly repetitive.  I really like the S4 a lot.  I haven’t used it long enough to use the “Love” word (work with me…), but it’s growing on me.  It’s funny – my wife is watching the growing pains and learning curve of the S4 and keeps saying, “If you don’t like it or it doesn’t work, take it back!”  What she doesn’t have as part of the experiential frame of reference is the equivalent learning curve I went through with the 8X, as she hadn’t moved out here, yet. That’s a long story as to why, involving moving for work and that kind of thing, but the long and short of it is that she didn’t hear the same grumping and “aha” moments with the other phone.  The learning curve with the S4 has more to do with unlearning how I’d been doing it for the past year and doing it the way it’s done on an Android-based phone rather than “this thing sucks, wtf!” kind of problems.  Another big difference is that when I was having problems on the 8X, it was new enough that there were very few people who had any experience with it while the support on S4 has been superlative and “problems” have turned out to be less significant and more easily “fixed” with the S4 partly because the problems themselves are less significant (see SIM slot…) and partly because the fixes don’t involve OS-level tweaks, for the most part, which makes things much easier.

Honestly, I like Android better.  I’ll stick with Android.  The level of robustness is just, well, robust, and odds are good that if there’s something I want to do, there’s either an app for that, which wasn’t the case, often enough, with the Windows Phone. 


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 217 other followers